WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - There is now a ruling in a case from 2010 of company that was accused of forcing a pilot to fly an airplane in unsafe conditions. Metropolitan Aviation was cleared of any wrong doing in 2012, but in July 2013 a final decision was made ordering that the pilot be reinstated and receive more than $218,983.25 in backpay and compensatory damages. U.S. The Department of Labor also awared attorneys fees. It found that the company's actions "violated the employee protection provisions of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Invvestment and Reform Act of the 21st Century", or AIR21.
You can see the OSHA secretary's findings and the order for the compensation and reinstatement for the pilot at the PDF links attached to this story.
The pilot was fired in June 2010 following an emergency landing. The pilot filed a complaint with OSHA, which precipitated the two government investigations. The pilot, who had 24 years of experience as a pilot and was an FAA-licensed aircraft mechanic, flew four passengers out of Manassas, including Former White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty. The pilot claimed he was fired immediately after for putting safety ahead of profits.
Metropolitan Aviation called the claim unfounded.
"I mean, the whole airplane shook," the pilot, who asked to remain anonymous, told us during a 2010 interview.
According to the 2010 OSHA complaint, the routine flight on a Metropolitan Aviation Hawker 800 allegedly took an unexpected turn 20 minutes in.
"It became very clear after the loud bang and the excessive vibrations that something had come apart in the tail of the airplane," said the pilot.
The complaint revealed that after that bang, the pilot saw a warning light indicating that the rear bay was overheating.
"That rear bay overheat light is probably the most important light to a pilot that you have potential for a catastrophic failure," said the pilot. "Had that hot air or potential fire burned through the flight control cables, we would've lost control of the airplane."
The complaint recounts how the pilot declared an emergency and landed the plane at State College airport in Pennsylvania. He alleges that Metropolitan Aviation pressured him to fly the damaged Hawker 800 back to Manassas. The complaint indicates that an FAA licensed mechanic determined the Hawker 800 was NOT air-worthy. The pilot refused to fly it.
"We did everything by the book," he said. "We landed that airplane safely, and everybody walked away."
"And then I got fired," said the pilot.
"This case is really about aviation company that wanted to save money by operating a plane in an unsafe condition, and it's about a pilot who wouldn't let 'em do it," said David Wachtel, the pilot's lawyer.
In 2010, Metropolitan Aviation CEO Alan Cook declined our requests for an on-camera interview, but asked -us- a few questions.
"Are you related to him in anyway? Or his people?"
"Related?" we asked.
"Yeah," said Cook.
For the record, we are not related to anyone involved in this case.
Metropolitan Aviation's website said 'safety is our culture." We used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain its inspection reports and other safety-related data in 2010. We received information on 84 inspections and 4 investigations. Among the findings:
-- In January of this year, the FAA found numerous errors in the company's flight and duty logs, which detail hours flown and mandatory crew rest periods between flights.
--In January of 2009, the FAA found several of Metropolitan Aviation's pilots had not completed a competency check required by federal regulations. Corrective action was taken.
--This year alone, the FAA's Safety Hotline received three calls regarding Metropolitan's alleged safety violations; one is part of an ongoing investigation, the other two cases are closed.
Said the pilot, "The charter business is about making money, and everyone I've worked for prior to this has had, has always put safety first. In this situation I was faced with doing the right thing, or keeping my job. Unfortunately, I lost my job."
WUSA 9 also obtained inspection records from May of 2010, which found that Metropolitan Aviation did not conduct pre-employment drug and alcohol testing, prior to hiring some employees to perform safety-sensitive jobs.
According to those records, the company also failed to conduct random drug testing, in accordance with federal regulations. Both violations were corrected.
At the time, Metropolitan Aviation declined our requests for a formal interview. But in their legal filings to OSHA, the company denied firing the pilot because of that emergency landing and says he was never asked to fly the damaged plane. Instead, Metropolitan alleged the pilot was fired because of poor judgment and issues with his performance.